To fight off late winter doldrums – much needed in late February – I try to scoot outside to scrutinize the impact the last few months of cold, snow and ice had on my shrubs. It may be too early to remove leaves and winter mulch from planting beds and the soil is still too stubbornly frozen to accept a shovel, but likely there are plants that could use some tender loving care or a good winter pruning.
My recent inspections revealed some a broken stems on the latest shrub to join my menagerie … a small pieris japonica shrub. I pruned smallest to bring inside. After making a clean angled cut on the stem, and removing any lower leaves, the cutting went into a vase of water on a window sill that receives bright, indirect light. If it sprouts roots I may end up with a new pieris bush. The larger broken branch can be addressed on a warmer, less windy day. The damage to this bush occurred, no doubt, from the weight of shoveled snow … probably should have placed a protective cage around the pieris to prevent it being weighted down by piled snow … ah well … live and learn. Now the bush will need some first aid pruning to encourage regrowth and fill the void.
My boxwoods are also showing winter damage – note the white tips in the photo below.
This time of year is also good for cutting back red and yellow twig dogwood. Some recommend cutting these to about 6 inches or so from the base every year, but my red twigs are still relatively small and play a main role in the foundation beds so I tend to leave the red-tinted branches intact through most of the winter. Closer to spring, I cut back the older, less colorful stalks, those that detract from the shape of the bush, and any brown tips. The cuttings holding some color go into an urn or small barrel as a front porch accent that can remain till replaced by spring flowers.
Generally, any winter damage should be pruned out of bushes and small trees, regardless of type or time they bloom. Doing so during late winter will allow the plant to heal itself as soon as the warm weather juices begin to flow.